There’s an ancient pyramid in Rome.

  • Pyramid of Caius Cestius
Pyramid of Caius Cestius
clu/ iStock

The word “pyramid” generally conjures up visions of the awe-inspiring stone tombs that dot Cairo’s skyline, but the ancient Egyptians didn’t have a monopoly on these triangular monuments. Pyramids can be found throughout Africa, India, and the Americas — and one can even be found in Rome, the ancient capital of the Roman Empire. Originally built around 12 BCE, and located only a mile south of the Roman Forum (at what is now a busy intersection), the Pyramid of Cestius is named after Caius Cestius, a little-known Roman magistrate who had an affinity for all things Egyptian. The structure stands less than 120 feet tall, which is almost four times smaller than the world-famous Great Pyramid of Giza, but it features far steeper slopes than Cairo’s collection of pyramids. Archaeologists believe this could be because Cestius simply had the wrong dimensions, or that he was inspired by tombs located farther south of modern-day Egypt in what is now Sudan, which feature similarly steep slopes. 

While the Pyramid of Cestius is the only surviving pyramid among Rome’s sprawling collection of ancient monuments, that wasn’t always the case. For centuries, the Meta Romuli, or Pyramid of Romulus, stood west of the Roman Forum and served as a kind of monumental twin to Cestius’ pyramid. In fact, during the Middle Ages, the Pyramid of Cestius was called the Meta Remi, and a legend grew that the two tombs housed the mythological founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus. Unlike the Pyramid of Cestius, the Meta Romuli did not survive Rome’s Renaissance-era building craze, and it was demolished for its materials. Today, the lone “twin” is the only ancient pyramid still standing on the European continent. 

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